Protocol Nr. 3662
The person in question has given us the following information: In the period before the ghetto, still in the days after the Germans’ invasion of Hungary the Jewish Council made me appear in its main office and appointed me as the head of its technical department. In this period me and my staff sabotaged as much as we could the Germans’ material demands. The current value of demanded goods that we failed to provide can be estimated at a few million forints. Both me and my colleagues were taken away a few times from the office but eventually we went through these months with difficulties but safe. October the 15th, 1944, when the Regent’s son was taken away and there were shootings in the street people started to feel insecure and confused in the offices of the Jewish Council. That day, the Council decreed that all the members of its organisation should leave the main office before the end of working hours. Overnight, the political situation completely changed. While a few hours before, Regent Horthy’s announcement was read in the radio claiming that Hungary was going to make a separate peace treaty and would turn against German fascism, by the morning Szálasi took power. In the morning, starred houses were closed and instantly armed atrocities were started against Jews all around the city. I neither listened to the radio nor read the journals and as I went to bed early, tired of the perturbations of the day before, in the morning I went totally uninformed into the main office of the council. I got to the building with some difficulties. It was completely empty guarded only by the doorkeeper. The Jewish labour service company accommodated in an attached building was on the alert. Its members could not get into the council’s building as they were guarded by armed men. On this first day well- armed squads of the Arrow Cross repeatedly got into the building willing to occupy it, and on the pretext of searching for weapons they demanded the keys of the safe. Already the first squad wanted to take me away. It was when I made that famous phone call with the not long ago executed vitéz gendarme Lieutenant Colonel László Ferenczy, who had been the ministerial commissioner responsible for Jewish matters. I asked for his help against the Arrow Cross. He refused me but I managed to mislead the invading armed men saying that my intervention on the phone was successful and claimed that a squad car had been sent to the council’s building. As a result the armed men left frightened, and I managed to mislead also others, so there were no searches in the building of the Jewish Council, neither this day nor later in the Szálasi era, and none of our safes was opened, in which we managed to preserve the valuables of Jewish institutions and the very precious golden treasures of the Kadisa of Pest. In the next few days first I put on the military armband, later some parts of a suit, and finally my uniform as a captain, in which, as a self-made commander I did illegal service till the day of liberation. In two-three weeks also some of my eminent colleagues came into the office, and we managed to liberate members of the council from their home captivity with the help of labour service military guards and took them into the building of the council. Later, first of all Lajos Stöckler, member of the council took over the lead. As the members of the old council went missing a new administrative body was established, and Jaross, who had been the Minister of the Interior of the Szálasi government (and had been executed since then) selected the third Jewish Council where partly new people got into leading positions. The organisation of the Council was completely changed, since the members of the old staff were either forced into trench digger companies or were deported and we were needed to involve new men, people who somehow ended up here and seemed at least partially competent. The first days were the days of atrocities. Jews were shot or killed in different ways on the street, on the squares, in flats, or in other places. In these days authorities were completely uninformed and the chaos was so great that police asked us to take measures regarding the atrocities because they considered the Jewish Council as the highest authority above people wearing a yellow star. Even the ambulance service needed our involvement, so much so, that they set up the Voluntary Ambulance Service of Budapest in the building of the Jewish Council. The next ordeal for us was the instruction of the Arrow Cross forcing thousands of Budapest Jews into the two largest synagogues. Many were robbed there with the assistance of armed policemen. We made extreme efforts to provide some food to these prisoners who were completely sealed off. There were some who died on the pews, some who went mad because of the threats of the Arrow Cross. In the first instance we managed to get them free ca. 6,000 prisoners, so we could help their way back into their flats aided by a police escort in groups divided according to streets. Later, however, it happened that during the night they snatched prisoners of the synagogue and deported them. As a next move the Jews of Budapest, especially the younger generations – both men and women – were forced into labour service to dig trenches. At the same time, and as a continuation, on the other bank of the Danube masses of people, who were later deported, were now concentrated in one of the big brick factories. In the first weeks all our efforts were spent on saving at least those people in whose case we could use some pretext. We sent horse-drawn wagons to the brick factory and other gathering places to take away the old, the sick, and the handicapped in return for money or for other things. During these rescue actions we could save a few thousands of people. With these events in mind already in the first days of the Szálasi regime the idea of establishing a ghetto was born. After long negotiations supported by foreign embassies of Budapest finally the two parties agreed to set up a ghetto in the 7th district of the city involving the streets that were the most densely populated by Jews. The Arrow Cross wanted to concentrate these people in a territory as small as possible, while our goal was to use the largest possible space for the planned ghetto, and this confrontation caused innumerable difficulties. When the negotiations were finally closed we realised that they forced almost 70,000 people into a place which could house around 25-30,000. First, this ghetto was sealed off by armed guards, later, using the money of the Jews and Jewish workforce they had an enclosure of planks built around it. It is characteristic of the times that in the original regulation they insisted that a separate street was to be given to converted Jews. These converts were not required to put the yellow star on but were permitted to sew only a simple yellow patch on their cloth. They obliged the Jewish Council to secure their complete separation from Israelite Jews. It is worth mentioning that this favouritism was not used by anyone: the inhabitants of the ghetto were blended without any sign of differentiation. Christian churches then demanded separate rooms from the Jewish Council where they could hold masses in accordance with the rules. The first great problem was providing food supplies for the ghetto. We set up soup-kitchens and relied on food supplies coming from outside but the results were poor and far from satisfying. At the beginning, city authorities helped us with food – naturally we had to pay for it. Later, the Arrow Cross did not allow this practice. Several occasions when we were carrying food to the starving people of the ghetto from the stores of Joint, which belonged to the international Red Cross and was set up outside the ghetto, we were attacked by soldiers of the Arrow Cross, and we could feel fortunate if the Jews responsible for the delivery were not killed but only the food was seized. Sanitation in the ghetto was another great problem as mostly old and sick people lived in this enclosed area. We needed to establish emergency hospitals in the apartment houses without any equipment. Seriously sick people lay in the most primitively furnished rooms and it was only due to the self-sacrifice of doctors that the ghetto did not suffer greater losses (...) it was as difficult as providing food supplies. As the life in the ghetto normalized, we needed institutional solutions for our problems. However, the greatest obstacle was the siege of Budapest that had started in the meantime. Bombs and shells were falling on the buildings. We had to extinguish fire day and night and received no support from the fire-brigades of the capital. We had to free the injured people out of the ruins of buildings. These were the conditions among which the ghetto’s administrative bodies needed to operate. We established ten separate bodies which shared administrative duties. We were forced to set up a police of the ghetto, and to create a funeral office pressed also by the high mortality. As for funerals, we could deliver dead bodies outside the ghetto supported by the Communal Funerary Firm, later, however, there were no such opportunities at all, and we could not even dig graves because of the cold winter. By the day of liberation a few thousand unburied dead bodies were in the depot. While inner organisation of the ghetto began to take shape we needed to keep contact with the authorities that were above us during this hard time. We had to go to headquarters and bureaus every day. Sometimes we managed to attain that temporarily we were treated in a more humane way but mostly we besieged these authorities only to tell them our complains. There were again and again atrocities in the area of the ghetto, the Arrow Cross shot our fire brigade or ambulance men, sometimes they targeted pedestrians in the streets of the ghetto just for fun. When the day of liberation was approaching the chances of a pogrom started to grow again. They even started it one day when fascists attacked an air-raid shelter of an apartment house with machineguns, and discharged their bullets on innocent people killing everyone in the shelter. It is a miracle that this action did not continue. Little by little, we managed to have personal contacts even with certain men of the Arrow Cross, who then informed us about future actions against us. This is how we learnt that they were going to liquidate the entire population of the ghetto the day before the Red Army would have arrived. We were informed that an armed command was ready to attack the ghetto from different sides at the same time and institutionally annihilate its population within a few hours. This commando was made up of German panzers with flame- throwers, of a larger troop of the Arrow Cross and of policemen with machineguns. Having this in mind we prepared the side of the planked enclosure looking towards the attacking Russians so that we could easily knock it down when the attack started hoping that this way we would at least open the route of escape. It was a lucky coincidence that there were leading fascists who got scared of the plan of a mass killing, hence we managed to counteract and got the massacre delayed. This is the reason why the invading Read Army could save the starving population of the ghetto from death the 18th of January, 1945.